Do Your Horse's Hooves REALLY Need Trimming?

What a question, huh?  I can hear y'all shouting YES! to the title of this post ... but stop and think ... do they REALLY need to be trimmed every 4 or 5 or 6 weeks?  

I've been viewing a rash of 'little hooves' ... meaning, the hooves' walls are not as long as they perhaps could be, the heels are pretty un-noticeable, the collateral grooves back by the seat of corn are a mere 1/8th of inch deep, the frogs are weak looking little things, there is no visible indication that the hooves even HAVE 'bars' and from the coronary band down to the ground would just BARELY reach 3 inches. OH, and the complaint is 'sore footed'.

Well, I have something to say about this.  

Your horse NEEDS HOOVES!  

He NEEDS ample hoofwall. He NEEDS heels. He NEEDS bars. He NEEDS thickness in the walls and sole. He NEEDS fat, cushiony frogs. 

What he DOESN'T need is some human micro-managing, to the 100th of an inch, the horse's hooves! Nor does he need to have the hooves trimmed every 4 weeks when they are in a slow growth period of time (winter) and not indicating that they need a trim! 

Think, People ... think of how nature wears the hooves.  Does nature carve out bars? Does nature thin out the sole to 8mm thick? Does nature take slices of the frog off to make it look all tidy and clean?  

Think what nature DOES do ... according to the environment and movement of the horse.  

Is the dorsal hoofwall worn away from ground to the hairline? Is the sole pared down and concavity 'dug out' until pink bruising appears and the sole can be pushed in merely with thumb pressure? 

That's not nature's way. Nature's way is to wear the hoof in accordance and response to the movement of the horse and then grow more as it is needed. 

It's that simple. 

Many trimmers try to get the hooves trimmed to 'wild mustang' parameters too quickly without regard for the individual hoof on the individual horse. In doing so, the soles are thinned, the heels taken down and the bars overtrimmed. As stated before this causes lameness ... from sole bruising and then, most likely, from abscesses forming.

The collateral grooves are tale-telling barometers of just where the sensitive corium is in the foot. One can pretty easily determine this just from remembering that the collateral grooves are about 1/2 inch to the corium regardless of the thickness of the sole. Collateral grooves that are too deep indicate soles that are too thick and need to be trimmed a bit -- MAYBE. Collateral grooves that are too shallow -- leave the sole alone!!! HEALTHY soles (and walls) will be approximately 1/2" - 3/4" thick. Callous may build up on the soles and that is what we want. But then when we trim the soles, we're taking away that callous!

The photo above shows no collateral groove depth at the apex (red arrow) and if the sole at the toe is trimmed (blue arrow) then the horse would be extremely sore as the depth to the corium would be thinned dramatically.  

Learn to 'listen' to the collateral grooves and leave the sole alone! If there is natural exfoliation taking place, and pieces of the sole can easily be pulled off by hand, then that's fine. Leave that which does not allow itself to be removed easily. 

Trim the walls to an appropriate height, balance the heels leaving 1" of collateral groove at the seat of corn, complete your finishing work and let nature take care of the rest. 

This is a great example of a hoof that is too "short" 


On this webpage[pageGallery]/1/  you can easily see a dissection of this foot and how overtrimming would affect it.  

Many would go and start trimming down the walls and cleaning up the sole, the heels, the bars ... but in doing so, would render the horse even more tender than it was already. 

Go back to my blog post here:  Hoof Trimmers to read how to determine just where in the hoof capsule the P3 rests. Anything less than those parameters for sole thickness and collateral groove depth is telling the trimmer NOT to trim that go round and, perhaps, wait another couple of weeks for the hooves to grow some more. 

Hooves and horses can't tell time. They don't read calendars and don't give a rat's patooey whether it is 4 weeks since the last trim or 8 or maybe 6 months or more. Trim according to what the hooves say; not what the calendar says. And for the horse's sake, leave the soles alone!  In the ten's of thousands of soles I've seen I've not seen THAT many that need to be trimmed. A little bit of 'clean up' maybe .. but all out trim?  Nope. So listen to the sole ... 


Edited Tues., Feb 14, 2017 

I need to clarify here ... I think I was not defining enough about heel height and bars.  I mentioned above that the collateral grooves should be 3/4 -1 inch deep at *THE SEAT OF CORN* ... not heels that are 3/4 - 1" high.  And bars should never be left longer than walls so that they contact ground first. They should always be skimmed down so as to have passive contact.  

This illustration below shows the depth at the seat of corn (yellow dot) but then the beveling of the heel down and back to the widest part of the frog ... this is a gorgeous hoof from a formerly foundered mare ... It took about 4 months for the hoof to get here from when I started. But nice healthy frog coming back,  digital cushions growing back nice and strong (rounder heel bulbs that are thick and strong and even in form showing good hoof balance) the bars are skimmed down but still left to support the hoof, there is sufficient concavity that has grown in for proper mechanism of expansion for circulation within the foot.  This horse was on wet grass, too, just coming out of winter with ice, snow, slush -- you know the gig. 

Keep in mind that horses living on dry, arid ground will not have hooves that look like this. The environment plays a huge role in hoof health, form and function. A healthy hoof on dry, arid ground with extraordinarily robust and strong frog will LOOK like they have no heels to speak of but, in reality, the frog is so robust that it grows over from heel to heel thus giving the appearance of no heel. 

In the photo of a wild brumby hoof below from wild about hooves/ I have marked at the seat of corn where the heel purchase is and then arrows beveling down to the widest part of the frog where the heel ends. One can also see the bars are not absolutely flush with the sole but neither are they protruding above wall level. They are clearly present, however. 

I hope this helps to clarify.  The horse needs heels and bars to support the back of the hoof as the weight of the horse lands on those heels with every step. Thus, trimming down and trimming down and trimming down the sole, heels and bars will simply cause the hooves to collapse as stated in above post. Trimming the hooves 'just because its 4 weeks out' is not a good reason to trim hooves. LISTEN to the hooves - they may not need trimming every 4 weeks or even 6 weeks or even, as my mustang mare, in almost 6 months! It's been almost 6 months since I've trimmed her hooves. Her toes are long but are trimming themselves as she needs and her hooves are sooooooo tough that I can't even get my nippers to cut through the walls if I wanted to!  She sound, she's solid, and her hooves are healthy.  My other horses are not so accommodating and need trimming more often. So, I listen to them. The ponies are growing so they can use tweaking up around 6 weeks now; my other mare goes about 3 months and then I will trim her up. All of them are thick walled, strong walled and require a bit of soaking prior to trimming to help soften the horn. 

As usual with horses ... it all depends. 




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Gwen Santagate is the author of "10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves" . For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 18 years. She keeps a small herd of her own equines and continues to offer consults for horses in need.